Political Emotions, a Conference at The University of Adelaide

By Phillipa Bellemore, Macquarie University and Bircan Ciytak, University of Birmingham

The ‘Political Emotions’ conference, sponsored by The Australian Sociological Association’s Sociology of Emotions and Affect Thematic Group (TASA SEA), together with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE), was held on 22 and 23 of July at The University of Adelaide, Australia. The title ‘Political Emotions’ suggested a conference that would explore emerging and uncharted emotional territories, and this was certainly the case. A 10:00am start on the first day allowed everyone to orientate themselves and form friendly introductions and discussions with other participants before the day commenced: we knew this was going to be an affirming and informative conference. A multi-disciplinary mix of participants added eclectic perspectives, with scholars from history, sociology, human geography, education and anthropology attending. Researchers from Scotland, Germany, England, Italy and China, as well as different states in Australia, presented and participated in lively discussions.

Photo of Louise Richardson-Self presenting her paper on Reactions to Removing ‘Gender’ from Tasmanian Birth Certificates
Louise Richardson-Self (University of Tasmania), delivers her paper on ‘Reactions to Removing ‘Gender’ from Tasmanian Birth Certificates’. Photo by Bircan Ciytak, 2019.

Concurrent sessions and panels throughout the conference showcased work of early career researchers, doctoral students, along with presentations by long-standing academics. Panel topics included emotional politicians, imagining an emotional politics, emotional educations, (Post) Colonial emotions and media emotions. One panel examined encounter, emotions and hopeful ways of living together. Presentations by Melanie Baak, Melike Petersen and Phillipa Bellemore reflected a quiet response to diversity and raised the possibilities that emerged from engaging with emotions through cross-cultural encounters. At another panel, Claire Gray examined the welfare policy under New Zealand’s sixth Labour government, and highlighted media responses to welfare recipients, particularly disgust. Bircan Ciytak delivered a paper on the weariness associated with unjust assumptions about identity for third generation Turkish heritage migrants in Germany, their experiences and its impact on belonging and identity. This linked well with Gray’s reflections on ‘outsiders’ as ‘disgusting’ through emphasizing the emotional impacts of this positioning.

Photo of Matthew Lovatt (University of Leeds) presenting his paper on 'Emotional Storytelling in British Parliamentary Rhetoric'
Matthew Lovatt (University of Leeds), presenting on ‘Emotional Storytelling in British Parliamentary Rhetoric’. Photo by Bircan Ciytak, 2019.

A question and answer panel including conference keynote Alison Phipps, Deb King and Michelle Peterie on managing emotions as researchers and activists was skillfully facilitated by Katie Barclay. The panel explored how academics and researchers and also activists, handle being involved in challenging areas such as climate change activism, refugees support and policy-making around people seeking asylum and on conditional welfare programs. So often positivist research tropes silence our recognition of emotions involved in our research and the impact they have on us. Michelle Peterie discussed the emotional toll of empirical research and the discomfort of publicly acknowledging this, while conscious of our privilege and that the lives of the people she researched were so hard. Deb King and Alison Phipps urged us to find joy in our lives through taking care of ourselves, finding what helps us flourish whether it be exercise, knitting, singing, the restorative act of being around like-minded people or joining movements such as Extinction Rebellion.

Photo of Alison Phipps, Michelle Peterie and Deb King speaking in a panel about 'Political Emotions in Practice'.
Left to right: Alison Phipps (University of Glasgow), Michelle Peterie and Deb King (TASA SEA) speaking about ‘Political Emotions in Practice’. Photo by Phillipa Bellemore, 2019.

A similar self-reflexivity was evident in presentations by Marco Santangelo and Jonathon Burrow, who spoke on emotions of resource allocation in Singapore and China. Their panel engendered debate on the risk that researchers bring a Western lens when engaging in research in other countries, and the importance of considering the perspectives of people living in those communities. Relationality between subject and researcher, and the emotional praxis of change-making, was a central theme across papers.

Professor Alison Phipps from the University of Glasgow delivered a lively public lecture and keynote presentation on ‘Decolonising Multilingualism: What Happens to Emotions When English Takes a Step Back?’ Alison’s presentation, which included poetry and compelling visual images, invited us to consider the impact of colonisation on language and our own assumptions about race and language. A moving presentation, emotion was both figured as a performative component of her presentation, and as central to the dynamics of decolonial engagements across culture. Alison has written a short monograph, Decolonising Multilingualism: Struggles to Decreate, as her manifesto.

We left this conference feeling nourished, hopeful and inspired, with new connections and many ideas seeded for future reading and writing. The ‘Political Emotions’ conference was a powerful conference showcasing diverse perspectives on politics and emotions. Thank you to Katie Barclay, Nathan Manning, Deb King and Michelle Peterie from The Australian Sociological Association’s Sociology of Emotions and Affect Thematic Group (TASA_SEA) and the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE), for your hard work in organizing and facilitating a gentle and hopeful conference.

To view the program for the ‘Political Emotions’ conference, visit: http://www.historyofemotions.org.au/events/political-emotions


Feature image: A woman declares ‘No Hate’ at a protest in Los Angeles, California 2017. Photo by T. Chick McClure on Unsplash.

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